Zucchini: Its History and Uses

September 11th, 2020

By Karen Osburn, City of Geneva Historian

It is that time of year again when gardeners are suddenly picking huge crops of zucchini, some times from just one plant.  I have been offered this long green summer squash from almost everyone I know who has a garden. I know someone who bought a half share in a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) and has gotten zucchini every time she picks up her bag of fruits and vegetables.  I don’t dislike Zucchini; it is a relatively innocuous vegetable.  It doesn’t have much flavor and if it is picked when it is young and about 6 to 8 inches you can make some tasty side dishes out of this summer squash. So, what is the history behind this very abundant vegetable?

Zucchini has its origin in Mesoamerica (the part of North America extending from central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica). It is one of a large number of vegetables and fruits native to North and South America and introduced into the “Old World’s” cuisine after Columbus’ voyage in 1492, among these are corn, beans, squash, cocoa, vanilla, potatoes, tomatoes, and bell and chili peppers.

Botanically zucchini is a fruit (fruit develops from the flower of a plant and a vegetable is any other part of the plant that is edible such as stems, roots and leaves), but for cooking and eating purposes it is treated as a vegetable and usually served in hot and savory dishes. Nutritionally this squash provides few calories but it provides some folate, Vitamin A and potassium.

It appears that the zucchini, as we know it, was developed in Italy around the later half of the 1800s and thought to be reintroduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the 1920s. Today, many countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Britain, and of course Italy have their favorite recipes for zucchini. This humble vegetable is very well traveled.

So why did I decide to write about zucchini?  Because this time of year there is no avoiding this green oblong squash.  I wonder why people don’t have an abundance of wax beans, beets or cauliflower to give away? How about some carrots, or raspberries or melons? Nope, it is almost always green squash.  If it isn’t the squash itself it is zucchini bread, muffins, cake, pancakes, pickles or cookies. I have read you can even make it into wine! None of these are bad uses of this ubiquitous vegetable/fruit still this is a lot of zucchini! Since it such an easy plant to grow many home gardeners are inundated with the fruits of their labors. Did you know the flowers are edible and an expensive delicacy which can be deep fried as fritters or tempura or even used in soup? There are recipes for using the blossoms on-line and using the flowers will cut down on the amount of squash produced.

I have discovered a tasty way to prepare young zucchini (6-8 inches long) which I will share with you.  Wash the squash and pat dry, cut it lengthwise in to 1/4 or 1/3 inch planks, place the planks on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet about an inch apart, brush each piece with olive oil, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and crushed garlic and bake in a pre-heated 350º oven for 10 to 15 minutes (keep an eye on it) depending on thickness of the squash. Serve immediately.

I want to end with one other anecdote about too much of one type of produce. Many years ago, I visited a friend in Sun City, Arizona.  The problem the residents of that town had was an overabundance of lemons. Apparently, one lemon tree could provide its owner with all the lemonade, lemon wedges, lemon pie, lemon cake, lemon cookies, lemon cheesecake, lemon muffins, and savory dishes like Chicken French. Since a lot of their neighbors also had lemon trees, they could not give the fruit away.  The solution there was to leave lemons on car bumpers and bicycle baskets in shopping plaza parking lots.  I hope I don’t start finding zucchini on the hood of my car!  Given a choice I will take the lemons every day!!

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3 responses to “Zucchini: Its History and Uses”

  1. John Marks says:

    If folks watch The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, they might hear bakers talk about using courgettes in a recipe. It’s the British word for zucchini – if I hadn’t seen the vegetable, I wouldn’t have had a clue.

  2. Norma Press says:

    Informative, timely and delightful blog.

  3. Joanne Wisor says:

    Found a large one in my mailbox.

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